Watch Adam Savage’s Pedal-Powered Beest Machine Take Its First Steps

Adam Savage from MythBusters spent three days building a pedal-powered Strandbeest-type machine. Will it walk?

2 min read
Adam Savage pedal-powered beest walking machine
Adam Savage, former co-host of MythBusters, spent three days building a pedal-powered Strandbeest-type machine at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
Photo: Theresa Chong

Adam Savage, the former co-host of Discovery Channel’s popular television show MythBusters, is accustomed to testing the limits of human ingenuity. Do you remember when he and his team of tinkerers tested the tensile strength of duct tape by suspending a car with it? After that episode, I never looked at my ratty duct tape the same way.

Since MythBusters ended earlier this year, Savage has had some extra time on his hands. Which in the case of an avid designer and maker like Savage means spending three days hunkered down at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco building his latest creation. He called it the “Pedal-Powered Beest.” And the thing does look beastly, except for the bright-red All Star sneakers pinned to its 12 feet.

Savage’s Beest was inspired by the kinetic sculptures, known as Strandbeests, invented by Dutch artist Theo Jansen. Jansen’s structures are typically powered by the wind and made of PVC, but Savage wanted to build a human-powered version, as part of Exploratorium’s After Dark: BYOBeest exhibit, which celebrates Jansen and his creations.

Last night just outside the museum, fans huddled together in the cold to eagerly watch Savage’s 2.5-meter-tall machine crawl along the sidewalk for the first time. At the center of the truss system was the guts of a former bicycle and just below a tiny bucket seat for Savage to propel the contraption using his legs. Even though a few shoes slipped off in the shuffle, the crowd roared louder with every step that the man-machine took forward.  

We were there to capture all of the action and talk to Savage about the project. You can watch the whole thing on our Facebook Live Video below (our interview with Savage is after the demo and questions from the audience). 

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An important part of the project was letting visitors get a sneak peak at Savage’s design and build process, especially the setbacks, and how he was able to overcome them (or most of them). 

“This entire project is a reflection of myself,” Savage told us, adding that he believes in a maker culture that incubates failure as a necessary step toward success. “I’m not a genius. I’m not smarter than you. I’m just a guy who’s interested in doing something, and I persevered, and I got a machine out of it,” he added.

Adam Savage Strandbeest machineNice kicks!Photo: Theresa Chong

Savage explained that although he and his team had already pre-welded triangle sections and prepared custom made Teflon washers, it was still a challenge to assemble the structure. Midway through the demo, he climbed on the upper part of the machine to power it from above, instead of leaning on the seat.

“I didn’t know if it would support my weight. I didn’t realize that I had put the wheels in the right orientation to be able to ride it. But I did. And, that’s really cool,” he said.

Asked if he considered his machine a kind of robot, or perhaps a cyborg, he said: “It must be a cyborg because it uses me as a power system, so it’s more like a really elaborate wheelchair.”

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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